Finding the Holy Grail of Student Engagement

At the ISN2016 Conference in the Wisconsin Dells, Kevin Miller, Director/Conductor of Youth As Leaders Academy, presented his ideas for what really makes students engaged in their education. 

My top take-aways:

1. The world of education is filled with strategies and techniques (holy grails) to improve student engagement, but it is also filled with many fake ones that will “take the life from your students.” As teachers, we have to disseminate the difference. 

2. In a compliance centered environment, students will meet the expectations; however, those expectations are set by someone other than the student. They meet the expectations but do not reach their full potential. This is something that an educator cannot accept.

3. "Rules, codes of conduct, etc. suck the life from our students." 

4. The key to student engagement lies within each student. Students are not ready to show this and teachers aren’t ready to trust. Instead we manipulate students by focusing on compliance. Love and Logic programed children/students to accept that the only choices they have are the choices they are given. Students think "I don’t have any control; I don’t have any power. Just tell me what I need to do to get an A, then I can go back to what I have control over."

The foundation of Miller's Youth As Leaders Academy:

Relationships built on integrity are key to student engagement. There is an uncompromising effort to do everything with integrity, and everyone holds everyone else accountable. If teachers give the students opportunities to mess up over and over again, and the teachers still trust them, great relationships are built.

What are the steps that Miller thinks teachers and schools should take: 

Step One: Students develop a vision for their future: Metacognition, Literacy, Global Understanding, and Realistic Vision are integral.

Step Two: Each student determines what knowledge, skills, and dispositions she or he will need to develop to be successful in society.

Step Three: Students determine how they will develop mastery of the standards they have established. This can be a mixture of traditional, project based learning, standards based grading, etc. The point is that the students decide-everything.

Step Four: Students help design and operate the school. Get kids to throw away the mold of what school is and decide: What will the school look like? When will it meet? How long? What time? This could be different for different students. Think of the skills that the students will acquire during this process.

You may ask: What is the student engagement outcome? The answer, according to Miller, is: "The highest possible expectations fulfilled by commitment rather than compliance."

My final thoughts: Students shouldn’t be forced to “play the game of school.” To engage students in learning, we have to put the students in charge of their learning.